• Host of NITV's The Point Shahni Wellington will be taking her business elsewhere. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
OPINION: After the 'whitest ever' exchange at my boxing gym had me cancelling my membership, I will now be taking my fight elsewhere, writes Shahni Wellington.
Shahni Wellington

27 May 2021 - 11:17 AM  UPDATED 27 May 2021 - 11:17 AM

Boxing class has always been a favourite of mine.

What I lack in speed and execution, I make up with in “ouss ouss” sounds and mastering the art of glove position so the impact makes that satisfying ‘whack’.

I’ll admit it had been awhile, but as I made my way into the Upper North Shore (Sydney) gym I’ve been frequenting since December – I didn’t think I’d be leaving with that familiar, hollow feeling in my gut and a lump in my throat.

Growing up I’d had worse and I’d witnessed worse, but on a quiet Tuesday morning I felt unprepared. I felt tired.

It was in response to a line of questioning into what I did for a job, that started as seemingly innocent small talk between a gym owner and a young, proud Jerrinja and Wandi Wandian woman.

You know those times where you can sense where a person is going with a conversation?

And you use all your telepathic might to will them not to go there, but they inevitably do?

That process has led to the end of friendships, the end of tinder dates and today, the end of my gym membership.

“You’re like the whitest person ever!” she said to me, after I explained that NITV was made for Aboriginal people and by Aboriginal people.

It came after she asked what is the channel?

It came after she asked if I worked behind the camera or in front of the camera?

It came after she asked if she could see a photo of me on set.

It came after she asked, ‘but It’s not like the real news though?’

It came after she asked if real Indigenous people worked there.

That night I would present The Point, NITV’s flagship news and current affairs show.

Our first story would be about the coronial inquest beginning in Perth into the death of a 39-year-old Noongar man, Mr Riley.

Mr Riley, who was sitting outside of Officeworks, was tasered more than 10 times by police who thought he was someone else who was accused of a crime.

It’s not lost on me the privilege I have as a white-passing woman. The “whitest ever” passing woman, apparently.

For my dark-skinned family members, dark-skinned friends and the darker members of our communities – they aren’t afforded the option of a hall pass. Their discrimination is more blatant, more violent, fatal.

And while I walked out of the gym feeling small and feeling like my identity had been reduced, I walked out of there with my life.

Many of our people aren’t afforded that right. Not at their local pub, not while riding their bike, not while sitting outside of Officeworks.

I felt like a child in that moment, sitting on a gym floor in front of these two strangers.

That feeling turned to immediate remorse for not responding as the staunch Blak woman that my ancestors have built me to be.

I had booked in for the following class but told them I had to be somewhere else.

The next morning, I had to go into the gym to cancel my membership in person, a strategic clause by exercise facilities the world over.

In conversation with another employee, she processed my request and apologised profusely – “it never would have occurred to me that you’re part Aboriginal.”

As I write this, the glaring contrast of experiences of racial vilification is constantly front of mind.

To complain of my cultural erasure on the anniversary of an apology to Stolen Generations – where our women had their babies ripped from their loving arms at the call of the state.

As our children are still 10 times more likely to be removed from their families than other children in this country.

I remind myself the importance of recognising all the ways in which life in this colony re-iterates that we, as First Nations peoples, are made to feel unwelcome.

There should be safe places for us to simply exist, without ignorance being part of the warm down.

So I ask myself - For what purpose is reconciliation when a person in the street, a gym owner or the other, doesn’t acknowledge their place in this tattered relationship?

When an apology doesn’t equate to change?

When others, that I am not accountable, still feel they can determine my identity as an Aboriginal woman and my connection to our unceded lands?

The gloves are off, and I will be taking my fight elsewhere.